It is difficult for adults to understand why a suicide event has occurred. So, understandably, many adults have trouble discussing a suicide with children. Yet, it is important to tell children the truth. Even if children do not know the facts of a situation, they are usually keenly aware of the emotions of the adults in their lives. If not given the facts, a child will construct their own, often incorrect explanation.
Refusal to discuss or lying about the cause of death will reinforce stigma about mental illness and will teach that some things are too terrible to discuss. Children will feel more secure if a loving adult provides a clear, simple explanation.
When talking to a child about suicide, consider the child’s age. A young child may only need a sentence or two to explain what happened while older children will have more involved questions. If you do not know how to answer a question, if is okay to admit that you do not know the answer.
Keep your explanation simple and direct. “Granddad died from a brain illness. The brain illness caused him to take his own life. When someone ends their own life, we call this suicide. We’ll always love and miss Granddad and we’ll remember how Granddad lived his life.”
In addition to having questions, children may feel guilty if a loved one died by suicide. It is important to reassure them that the suicide was not their fault. Acknowledge that their feelings are normal, and explain that when someone dies by suicide that it is no one’s fault.